Lonmin Workers Struggle to Return in Tense Mine Reopening
Workers were prevented from reporting for duty at Lonmin Plc (LMI) as the third-biggest platinum producer reopened mines in South Africa in a bid to break a 16-week walkout, a union not participating in the strike said.
Police using armored vehicles are present in living areas around Lonmin’s mines in North West province, escorting employees who wish to return to work, Sydwell Dokolwana, a regional secretary for the National Union of Mineworkers, said today by phone. The situation around its mines is “tense,” the company said.
“The police are there, but you can’t move from your house to the place where the buses will pick you up,” Dokolwana said. “There are people singing and carrying weapons; they are there on every street pulling you off and forcing you to join them.”
Members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, the biggest labor organization at Anglo American Platinum Ltd. (AMS), Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. (IMP) and Lonmin, have been on strike since Jan. 23. The AMCU wants basic monthly pay, without benefits, to be more than doubled for entry-level underground employees to 12,500 rand ($1,211) by 2017, while producers are including cash allowances in that figure.
There was no cut-off time for employees to return to work today, Lonmin spokesman Happy Nkhoma said by phone.
The company would have to review the situation if circumstances around its operations remained tense, Lerato Molebatsi, Lonmin’s vice president for public affairs, said on state-owned SAfm radio. People are “fearing for their lives,” she said.
Workers wishing to report for duty should be allowed to do so, AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa said by phone. The union would maintain its demand for a base salary of 12,500 rand, Mathunjwa said on SAfm. “For the last 20 years the workers haven’t seen fruits of democracy, so now is the time,” Mathunjwa said. He addressed striking miners near Lonmin’s Marikana mines today.
No violent attacks near mines belonging to the producers were reported last night or this morning, Thulani Ngubane, a provincial spokesman for the South African Police Service, said by phone. Four people were killed and another six assaulted during various attacks last weekend and May 12, Ngubane said in a statement.
Vehicles belonging to staff performing essential functions at Impala’s No. 9 shaft were set alight today after the perpetrators gained access to the fenced-off property, spokesman Johan Theron said today by phone. The company’s mines remained closed, Theron said.
The AMCU has asked South Africa’s labor court to prevent employers from communicating directly with workers about the wage offer after the union rejected their last proposal earlier this month, the producers said in a joint statement today.
Lonmin received “overwhelming support” from employees for a return to work after the company appealed to miners by text message and voice mail, Chief Executive Officer Ben Magara said on May 12.
The producers will “strongly oppose” the union’s application, Charmane Russell, a spokeswoman for the companies at Russell & Associates, said today by phone. A date for the hearing hasn’t been set, she said.
Amplats, as the world’s largest producer of the metal is known, has seen more workers reporting at its strike-hit mines, spokeswoman Mpumi Sithole said by phone. “It’s a trickle, but it is an improvement,” she said, without disclosing attendance figures.
The AMCU has its biggest majority at Lonmin, where 82 percent of the workforce are members, according to the producers’ joint website. The union speaks for 62 percent of Amplats employees and 61 percent of Impala’s miners.
Attendance figures at Lonmin were likely to be low today and will increase during the course of the week should employees gain confidence in security measures, Franz Stehring, head of mining at trade union UASA, said by phone.
“Lonmin’s sole purpose today is to open the door,” Stehring said.
The company’s biggest priorities for the next few days were to perform health checks and safety inductions, Lonmin’s Nkhoma said.
Producers of the metal, used in catalytic converters to reduce harmful emissions from automobiles, have lost 17.8 billion rand in revenue and employees 7.9 billion rand in wages due to the strike, according to a website run by the companies.
Lonmin rose for the first time in four days, adding 0.1 percent to 261.3 pence at 1:14 p.m. in London trading.
Platinum gained for a third day, adding 1.4 percent to $1,473.88 an ounce.
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